We consume 42,000 gallons of crude oil every second,” says Anup Bandivadekar, a Ph.D. student who’s searching for technologies and policies to reduce petroleum use and greenhouse gas emissions from cars, trucks, and SUVs.
“There is no easy fix, no silver bullet, no one solution,” he says. “It’s difficult because we’ve enjoyed our mobility for a long time, and we can continue to enjoy it, but we must realize there is a price. Near-term, we need to drive smaller vehicles, buy ones that are more fuel-efficient, and simply do less driving.”
Bandivadekar is now working with Prof. John Heywood on a collaborative energy project, Near-Term Pathways to a Sustainable Energy Future, which includes four regional studies with partners in Europe, East Asia, India, and the United States. The project, which launched in 2005, is the first flagship program of the 10-year-old Alliance for Global Sustainability (AGS), a partnership of MIT, the University of Tokyo, the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, and Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. The goal of the Alliance is to develop new technologies and policies to support sustainable development.
The project brings together scientists, engineers, and social scientists and is a great way for faculty and students to work across disciplinary, institutional, and national borders to develop policies and practices to address the earth’s most challenging problems, including energy efficiency, clean and adequate water, fresh air, and enough food for a growing population.
Bandivadekar’s project focuses on hydrogen as an alternative to petroleum for transportation. But experts say “waiting for hydrogen” may be risky. It may be 50 years before hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are common enough on the road for society to benefit from their top environmental performance, so the question is, what can we do in the meantime?
David Marks, MIT faculty coordinator for the Alliance, and co-director of the Lab for Energy and the Environment, says the flagship program was launched because “we couldn’t think of a more critical issue than short-term sustainability in energy. What happens in the next 10 to 15 years in terms of efficient energy use and the use of less fossil fuel is so important. So much of the CO2 that goes up into the atmosphere today is up there for more than 100 years.”
“This is a more serious problem than most of us realize,” Bandivadekar says. “Our choices today affect generations to come. But even though things do not look good, the human race is pretty ingenious. We’re confident we’ll figure out a solution.”